Helmet or not, winter sports injuries are sometimes inevitable

Dec 21, 2014

The time to pull out the winter sporting gear has come, but with it comes the possibility of injury

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Navan Duggal discusses the strain winter sports can have on the body and what you can do to decrease the risk of injury. Duggal was chief of the Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Service at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is currently in private practice at Syracuse Orthopedic Surgeons.

Some of the more common winter sports are skiing, snowboarding and hockey.

“There’s lots of different sports out there that occur in the wintertime and, most commonly, I’ll see sprains and strains but, often times there will be more serious injuries such as fractures and dislocations and, unfortunately, head injuries and spine injuries,” Duggal says.  

According to Duggal, skiing and snowboarding bring about 150,000 injuries every year and hockey and ice skating produce approximately 100,000.

Credit dolanh / Flickr

“The number that surprised me the most was tobogganing and sledding which was almost 100,000 just alone with that sport,” Duggal says.

Some of the more severe injuries occur because of the speed of the sport. Duggal says using protective gear is crucial to preventing or minimizing injury.

“There’s a certain degree of skill level that’s required when you’re performing these types of maneuvers and activities at that type of speed level,” says Duggal. “Thirty five percent of head injuries can be avoided by using a helmet while skiing or snowboarding or sledding.”

Risk guards can prevent upper extremity issues which are common among snowboarders.  

“I think there’s a lot of evidence out there that suggests using the appropriate equipment is important in preventing injury,” Duggal says.

If a winter athlete is about to take a tumble, really there’s not “best” way to fall. The first step, Duggal says, is not to fight it.

“It’s important to just go ahead and fall,” Duggal says. “With respect to, if you’re skiing and you’re going to fall, keeping your skis together is important; falling forward with your weight going forward with your hands together, as well would decrease the risk of an injury.”

Duggal says loss of joint movement, such as a shoulder or knee, or even the need to differentiate between a break and a bruise are good reasons to seek clinical evaluation.

“If warranted, that patient will have an X-ray done to rule in, or rule out, a fracture,” Duggal says.

The impact of leaving an injury unchecked, ultimately, depends on the individual. If there is a presence of pain, Duggal suggests getting the injury looked at by your health care provider.

“I don’t think patients need to suffer,” Duggal says. “If you’re having pain with just doing normal activities after a day on the slopes that needs to be evaluated.”